Religion is a soft target for all political parties in India

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Thomas Lim
The rest of the world talks about progressive development, inventions and foreign affairs. Whereas, on daily basis one gets to hear about the religious conflicts of various tempo through media across the nation of ‘secular’ India, which assures equal treatment of all religions by the state. With the 42nd Amendment of the Constitution of India enacted in 1976, the Preamble to the Constitution asserted that India is a secular nation.
Also, the Supreme Court of India has banned political candidates from seeking election on the basis of religion, caste or language, in a landmark ruling that has unclear but potentially far-reaching consequences for the way Indian politics is practised. An election won by soliciting votes along the lines of identity politics could be considered corrupt practice and the result set aside.

Whereas at ground zero, religious conflicts have divided entire societies; and not just between various religions but within the same denomination as well. Just days away from the annual Mandala Puja, protests again broke out in the temple town of Kerala on December 23, 2018 as 11 women from the hitherto banned age group of 10 to 50 years, reached Pamba, to trek uphill and pay obeisance at the Lord Ayyappa shrine. The women from Tamil Nadu are adamant they will not return without praying at the temple.
It may be noted that Sabarimala has been witnessing protests by Hindu groups since the September 28 Supreme Court verdict that allowed women of all ages to enter the temple, including those from the hitherto banned age group.
As around two dozen women from that particular age group have already tried and failed to go up the pathway leading to the temple after the top court’s verdict, following protest from the Ayyappa devotees. Hundreds of angry protesters also equally adamant have been chanting slogans to not allow the temples’ customs to be breached. Just a few metres away from the women devotees, the protesters were seen singing Lord Ayyappa hymns, asking the women to retreat.
It is strange that the Hindu in their normal practices understand well on how to keep oneself clean as they offer prayer or visit the temple or shrine. However, in the case of Sabarimala, they have taken the issue as the Fundamental Rights that has nothing to do with religious practices, which has become one of the main factors leading to the unrest in almost the entire South India.
On the other hand, Islam across the world is now advocating the religion of peace and peace-making. However, it is not a pacifist religion; fighting and war is permitted in certain circumstances when all else has been tried and failed. Almost all religious leaders worldwide are attempting to change the mindset that Islam is the religion of Peace.
It may be mentioned that history has witnessed that Hindus and Muslims have coexisted peacefully, where both Temples and Mosques were seen within the same vicinity. One of such is still being preserved at Mandu or Mandavgad, an uninhabited ancient city in the present-day Mandav area of Madhya Pradesh, at Rani Roopmati Pavilion, where both communities have lived peacefully since 16th Century at Baz Bahadur’s Palace.
However, present day society is finding it hard to even meet eye to eye, not to talk about coexistence. Indian political parties seem to have lost the ability to garner votes purely based on manifestoes in recent times. The money power and vote banks based on propaganda are the key factors determining the winning-ability of an individual candidate and the political party. The threat to the democratic system is at stake as the party line simply raises religious issues to lure votes, violating the Fundamental Rights of Secularism- Right to freedom of religion, which has fragmented the nation.  
The Apex Court of India, in the First week of January 2017, through a landmark judgment, ruled that the political parties cannot seek votes in the name of religion. The court said that the parties have to abide by the tenets of the Constitution. The Court stated that an appeal to voters on the grounds of caste, creed and religion is impermissible. The judgment delivered by a bench of 7 judges, headed by former Chief Justice of India TS Thakur, and Justice Sharad Bobde, Justice Madan Lokur and Justice Rao, agreed with him that votes cannot be sought in the name of caste or religion. Three judges – Justice UU Lalit, Justice Adarsh Goel and Justice DY Chandrachud – struck a dissenting note.
The Supreme Court also observed that relation between an individual and God is an independent choice, adding that the state is forbidden to have allegiance to such an activity, meaning any attempt to canvas on religious ground – either the candidate’s or his opponents – will invite provisions of the Representation of People’s Act.
The bench revisited a 20-year-old judgment that called Hinduism – a way of life.
In Meghalaya, various organizations have also made attempts to organize talk or debates of all faiths, but it only ends at the podium; there were never attempts made to extend the same in the society. The district administration way back in the 1990s had constituted a Communal Harmony committee during the conflicts that led to numerous curfews. The said committee had few sittings, suggesting to have exchange programmes of all festivals by inviting all religious practitioners; but nothing much was executed.
The Chief Priest of the makeshift Ram Mandir has made it amply clear that there are no disputes at all between the Hindu and the Muslim. But as per media reports, there are various forms of cadres which keep vandalizing almost all religious institutions from Temple to Church to Mosque and Gurudwaras to Namghars, all have felt the pinch of such sabotage.
It is time the district administration should exercise an iron fist over any incident of violence related to religious conflicts to curb such sadistic acts, where at times even the graveyards are not spared. Also, the masses must not give any chance to such political gimmicks to spread their tentacles of hate, which even the Supreme Court has taken cognizance of.
One can imagine the development of the over 70 year-old independent India, where the election to the civic bodies in the national capital still talks about supply of drinking water, civic duties of cleaning up Delhi and regulating housing tax. Besides this, opposing political parties will only do mud-slashing against the rival parties. The Common Minimum Programme is left to the ruling party or parties to announce; no mandates are ever sought from the masses. This has turned elected representative as kings or queens, who will immediately demand security on being elected. The concept of voicing the grievances of the masses in the August House or serving the respective constituency has become a favour and not a duty anymore.
It is time for every individual to wake up and decide how we want to steer India towards the future, or simply allow the political parties to seek votes in the name of religion. It is time for the citizens to realize their right to franchise and use it to elect representatives who listen and perform, and not those that act as demi-gods or kings and queens where masses need to seek appointment for meeting.



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